The Prosthetic Impulse

The Prosthetic Impulse

From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future

Edited by Marquard Smith and Joanne Morra

Where does the body end? Exploring the material and metaphorical borderline between flesh and its accompanying technologies.





Where does the body end? Exploring the material and metaphorical borderline between flesh and its accompanying technologies.

Prosthesis—pointing to an addition, replacement, extension, enhancement—has become something of an all-purpose metaphor for the interactions of body and technology. Concerned with cybernetics, transplant technology, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality, among other cultural and scientific developments, "the prosthetic" conjures up a posthuman condition. In response to this, the 13 original essays in The Prosthetic Impulse reassert the phenomenological, material, and embodied nature of prosthesis without dismissing its metaphorical potential. They examine the historical and conceptual edge between the human and the posthuman—between flesh and its accompanying technologies. Rather than tracking the transformation of one into the other, these essays address this borderline and the delicate dialectical situation in which it places us. Concentrating on this edge, the collection demonstrates how the human has been technologized and technology humanized.

The eclectic approach taken by The Prosthetic Impulse draws on disciplines ranging from gender studies, philosophy, and visual culture to psychoanalysis, cybertheory, and phenomenology. The first section, "Carnality: Between Phenomenology and the Biocultural" concentrates on the organic, describing a body that, by its very materiality, is always and already prosthetic. The second section, "Assembling: Internalization. Externalization," considers the technological qualities and peculiarities of prosthesis, raising questions about the ways in which film, photography, AI, drawing, and literature—representation itself—can be situated within the framework of a prosthetic discourse. Taken together, the essays suggest that prosthesis is material as well as metaphorical. "It is just a matter of pondering where the inelegant edges lie," the editors write, "and living them most wonderfully."


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262195300 308 pp. | 8 in x 9 in 32 b&w illus.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262693615 308 pp. | 8 in x 9 in 32 b&w illus.


Marquard Smith

Marquard Smith is Director of the Institute for Modern and Contemporary Culture, University of Westminster, London. He is a Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Visual Culture.

Joanne Morra

Joanne Morra is Senior Lecturer in Historical and Theoretical Studies at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London. She is principal editor of the journal of visual culture.


  • Intriguing and delightful.... Together, these essays offer real insight into what means to be human in a pervasively mechanical world.

    The Futurist


  • As we plunge ever more rapidly into the brave new cyberworld awaiting us in the twenty-first century, it is unclear if we are becoming prosthetic gods, as Freud famously prophesied, or prosthetic devils. This scintillating collection, featuring essays from many of our leading cultural critics, provides plenty of fodder for both conclusions.

    Martin Jay

    Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley

  • This collection heralds a new phase in the debate about technologies of the body. In place of the overblown rhetorics that have dogged the theme of prosthetics in previous decades, here we have essays that are stylish and astringent, alert to historical perspectives and present experiences as well as to future orientations. They have real insights to offer about what it means to be human in a pervasively technologized world.

    Jane R. Goodall

    Professor, Writing and Society Research Program, University of Western Sydney

  • The engaging essays in The Prosthetic Impulse provide a spectrum of ways of thinking about a postmodern body enmeshed in a biological world. Using visual and cultural resources from film to high art, the essays draw upon the best of contemporary theory to imagine bodies suspended between a biological imperative and a mechanistic future. 'We are all already prosthetic' is the motto—but we are also all already too fragile not to desire the prosthetic.

    Sander L. Gilman

    Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, Emory University, author of Making the Body Beautiful and Fat Boys

  • This is a fantastic book. The Prosthetic Impulse sustains the argument that prosthetic technologies can be not only a means of social control but also a riposte to notions of the normative body, a testing and tempering of the relationship between body and world. This it does across contributions that are truly remarkable for the depth and variety of their historical and cultural research.

    Laura U. Marks

    Dena Wosk University Professor in Art and Culture Studies, Simon Fraser University, Canada, and author of Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media